By C. Antonio Romero
SAN FRANCISCO, 31 JANUARY 2008-The Oprah
Sarcophagus, the latest work of sculptor Daniel Edwards,
is bound to be his most talked-about media tweaking since the
Monument to Pro-Life Britney Spears sculpture put him
on most people's maps. But perhaps this wasn't exactly his
The hyper-curvaceous depiction of America's unstoppable
daytime-talk heavyweight engages in Edwards' usual po-mo riff
on figures different artistic traditions. If the Paris
Hilton Autopsy sculpture played off of numerous classical
depictions of the hunter goddess Artemis, then the Oprah
Winfrey statue goes one step further, in actually presenting
"the closest thing America has to a living deity" as precisely
On the one hand, the obvious, explicit allusion is to Egyptian
royal sarcophagi (some, perhaps lacking other points of
reference, suggest an uncanny resemblance to King Tut). But as
usual Edwards works in a sculptural quotation that may escape
many pop-saturated 21st century viewers: the prehistoric
goddess figurine known as the Venus of Willendorf.
Oprah Sarcophagus and
Venus of WIllendorf:
Separated at Creation?
Willendorf image from
Wikimedia Commons, used under license.
Oprah Sarcophagus image of unknown origin.
Seen side by side, the comparison is inevitable. The medium and
scale are different: the stone Willendorf fits in the
palm of the hand, while the bronze Oprah figure is life-size
(or perhaps larger-than-life, if the modern goddess has kept
her weight down).
But the similarities are striking-- the overall silhouette, the
curves and proportions, the stylized hair (even if the styles
are different)... and, tellingly, the tiny feet and the
peculiar arms (it's not clear whether the Oprah figure even has
And with the 25,000 year old Willendorf being among
the oldest surviving Venus or Goddess depictions known, it's an
entirely apt point of reference for the joke the sculpture
seems to be trying to make: that Oprah Winfrey has become the
ultimate female power icon in America. (Of course, Hillary
Clinton could be in the running for that title, if she wins the
Democratic primaries upcoming-- and she is already the subject
of an Edwards sculpture.)
One more irony: some have theorized that the distorted
proportions of the Willendorf suggest that it may be a
self-portrait from a woman's point of view-- the breats fill
the field of vision looking downwards, for example. While I
myself would not take this as a realistic interpretation, I
would see it as apt for Oprah, whose universe, from her
perspective, is filled with her own beauty and radiance.
What's peculiar about this project, though, is that Edwards
doesn't seem to have carried out his usual pattern:
- A model of a sculpture riffing on classical art and pop
celebrity (Paris, Britney, or even Barbaro)
- A press release that links the sculpture to some
mock-serious, tangentially related subject of mock-piety
(pro-life posturing, drunk driving, or animal cruelty)
- In recent works, some attempt to interact with his Internet
viewers (a far larger grioup than would ever make it to New
York to see his pieces)
- An eventual art gallery opening.
Here, in spite of this being a perfect and perfectly clever
target, we have only a fragment of a quote, one image of the
sculpture seemingly reproduced everywhere, and a lot of people
on the Web citing each other.
If I had to guess (and I don't, but I will), I'd say Edwards
wasn't in fact fully in control of the release of this image
and quote. Could someone have lifted this image? Or could the
sculpture have been finished, then quashed by Oprah's People,
with one image and quote being leaked out in spite of the
stifling? (Or could the mainstream media be afraid to run the
usual press release, given the subject matter and Oprah's
Britney Spears is too busy melting down, I think, to be
concerned about Edwards' exploitation of her image. (Paris
Hilton, as always, welcomes cheap media exposure.) Oprah, on
the other hand, will not be inclined to let this pass lightly.
Perhaps the modern media Juno will borrow a thunderbolt or two?
Let's see if there's more news about Edwards and, pictures of
this Oprah sculpture, and news about where the sculpture is to
be unveiled. If Edwards runs true to form, we should see a
press release linking the sculpture to the critical problems
with obesity and/or diabetes in America, or to representations
of race, or, heaven forbid, to Black History Month.
Britney Spears: Amateur Media Jammer?
All Daniel Edwards
Monument to Pro-Life
Hilton Autopsy Sculpture
Cruise Poop Bronzed; To Be Sold on Ebay